To most who grew up in Knoxville, especially those who were raised along Broadway from downtown through Fulton, Fountain City out to Halls and Corryton, what once was a hospital on Oak Hill Avenue will forever and always be St. Mary’s.
Tennova closed Physicians Regional Medical Center (St. Mary’s) at the end of 2018. Part of the campus is being reworked by the city of Knoxville for its new Safety Complex, which will occupy the former Professional Office Building, Central Wing Annex and Women’s Pavilion. Other areas are being cleared for private development.
Enter Lincoln Memorial University, which, under the leadership of board chair Pete DeBusk, has taken up residence in the former Magdalene Clark tower, now called LMU Tower. As if DeBusk didn’t have enough on his hands as the founder and chair of DeRoyal Industries, he’s a hands-on chair for LMU, watching over the tower reconstruction.
On a crisp, overcast February day, DeBusk was standing on the tower’s large concrete patio overlooking the considerable deconstruction going on below.
“You know, I’m a dreamer,” DeBusk said, with a grin. “I’ve got a real vision for what all of this can look like, what it can be,” adding that he wants it to feel like a campus, and the one inspiring that vision is the University of Virginia.
“I want this to be something the neighborhood can be proud of,” he said. “I want it to add to the appeal of the area, not detract from it.”
One question hanging in the balance is what to do with the original hospital building. DeBusk said the asbestos situation and its general poor condition may make re-use a non-starter. If it has to be taken down, he would like to see a community park in the space.
In the meantime, two floors of the tower have already been renovated, and the LMU Caylor School of Nursing returned to the location where it conducted classes for 30 years and re-opened in January. Classes were moved to a campus on Cedar Bluff Road in the interim. LMU also offers nursing programs at the main campus in Harrogate, in Alcoa, Kingsport, Corbin, Ky., and even Tampa, Fla.
Joan Eiffe has many honorifics and titles, among them M.S.N., R.N., assistant professor of nursing and site coordinator. The Lenoir City native attended St. Mary’s nursing school and worked at St. Mary’s before joining LMU as an instructor. She could be retiring now, but said her passion for teaching keeps her working. As she’s conducting a tour of the new nursing school floors, she said that she, along with her LMU colleagues, are excited about the return to the St. Mary’s campus.
“The plan is not to stop with the nursing school,” Eiffe said. “We are exploring both dental and optometry schools opening in the tower as well.”
Eiffe emphasized the decision by LMU to invest in North Knoxville, providing a place of learning for local students to receive degrees that quickly translate into careers. That sentiment was echoed by DeBusk.
“When you think about it, we’re an Appalachian university,” he said. “Our purpose is to serve, primarily, the educational needs of our community, here.”
Enjoy these photos from around the campus:
Beth Kinnane is community editor for KnoxTNToday.com